Monday, May 23, 2011

Sheila O'Malley: An Ark [What Movie Speaks to You]

[I would be very interested in hearing about your choice -- no judgement or critque on my part, I just want to know "If you had to pick a movie that you think IS your … your heart … what would it be?" -- I recommend you read O'Malley's full essay to get a sens of what this means.)

An Ark
by Sheila O'Malley
The Sheila Variations


Then, a couple hours later, the 6 of us I mentioned earlier found ourselves in a circle, chatting. We started with 5, and then Kurt joined us – as the conversation was heating up. He asked for an update, so he could get up to speed, someone filled him in, and he joined in wholeheartedly. There was lots of small talk first. Of course these are interesting funny people, so small talk with them is not, “Nice weather we’ve been having.” Somehow Odie and I started talking about Straitjacket (the William Castle movie with Joan Crawford), and we basically re-capped the entire movie, complete with pantomimes on my part (of her lighting the match off the record player). We talked about the Muppet Movie. We somehow started talking about Stallone (Boone had done a great piece on The Expendables for Capital), and his first screenplay for Rocky (not the shooting script, but what Stallone wrote before he even sold it) and how brilliant it is. And I will just say this, and I’ll get off it quickly: I was the only woman in the group, and I am used to men talking over me, if I am outnumbered. It’s a common thing when men get together, it just happens, and I’m happy to fight my way in to get heard, but it was nice in this conversation to not have to fight.

And it could have gone on in small talk for another hour. The hour was growing late, and the party was winding down. We were engaged with one another. But then Steven Boone said, presenting it to the group, in his soft gentle voice, “I want to know, from all of you, what movie …” he put his hand over his heart. “is your heart.”

Odie said, “You mean like a desert island movie? Because in that case, Coming to America.”

Everyone started laughing (Odie is awesome), and Steven said, “No, no, not desert island … but yeah, Coming to America, of course … but I mean, if you had to pick a movie that you think IS your … your heart … what would it be?”

As one, we all plummeted off the cliff into deep contemplation. Nobody piped up immediately. Everyone thought deep and hard. It was like we were on a suspension bridge, high above an abyss.

“What would yours be?” I asked Steven, a bit of a copout on my part, and he said, “Well, I’m not sure. I would love to hear what people say.”

In a flash, we all got very organized. It happened unconsciously. We were standing in a circle, and, without even setting it up formally, we started going around the circle, first one, then the other. We went in order. One person would say their movie, and then a conversation would erupt about that movie, and then we all would subside again, and, together, look at the next person in the circle, signalling, “Your turn.” Steven had kind of become our moderator. Always with that gentleness and support, he kept us on track. I thought about it later: This is the conversation that he wanted to be having, and so he was requesting of us that we do, too. One resistant person would have tipped the balance, one jokester making sarcastic remarks or making fun of someone else’s choice, or demanding that said person DEFEND their choice, would have ruined the fragile suspension bridge we were on. Our conversation had a polite and somewhat formal structure, and yet that very formality allowed everyone to go deep.

It seemed forbidden to question someone else’s choice. Not that I would anyway, I don’t care if you say Encino Man is your “heart”: I would find that fascinating and illuminating and would want to hear you talk more about it. But one dismissive person would have been like a canker sore, or a blister … something annoying and grating, and keeping us from what we were after: connection with each other’s dreams, longings, loves.

Because here’s the deal: sometimes our most important experiences are tied up in movies. Movies are not “just entertainment” to us. They have often handed important things to us, lessons, chunks of ourselves, or understanding. Movies have often put into words an unnamed grief or a sorrow. Movies have said to some of us in dark moments, “Hey. You’re not alone.” Steven was requesting (without really saying it) that we talk on that level. Yes, it’s fun to go the Desert Island route, too, but most of us said during the talk that our Desert Island movie would probably not be the same thing as the movie we were talking about in THIS conversation. Movies can rip you apart, movies can show you a truth that is so blinding you have to squint. Movies like that may not be comforting if you had to watch them for all eternity on that damn desert island. You might want a little laughter, or a little naked boobies, to break up the monotonous days in THAT scenario.

Steven looked across the circle at Odie, prompting him silently to go first. There’s something so accessible about how Steven listens: and it is listening that creates the “safe space”. Odie said, “You know, I would have to say Sirk’s Imitation of Life.” A rustle of response went through the circle, but nobody spoke. Odie said, “There’s something about that movie that just rocks me, it has to do with my grandmother [corrected!], and how I think about my grandmother, and if I had to pick a movie that spoke to me the most it would be that one.”

My mind, of course, had been racing, ever since Steven Boone asked his question. There were times when one of us would be speaking and I would look around the circle and I would feel two things going on in everyone at the same moment: they were listening, totally listening, but also they were thinking of what THEY wanted to say. It’s not that we wanted to pick the right movie that would get the approval of the group, it is that we really wanted to narrow it down to the best choice, the truest choice, for ourselves. So I found myself listening to Odie, and very moved about what he said about his grandmother, and although he didn’t go into details, I found myself thinking about Imitation of Life and imagining the impact it had on the man standing beside me. It made me feel close to him, even though there is so much I do not know. But at the same time, I was flipping through my entire history of movie-going. What do I say?? One of my childhood favorites? One of my eternal favorites? Like To Have and Have Not or Only Angels Have Wings? But … are those movies the REAL answer to Steven Boone’s question? I actually grappled with this in the 20 seconds I had to think about it. It seemed incredibly important to me that I pick the right movie, that I really grapple with Boone’s question on the level that he was asking it. So, no. Only Angels Have Wings is one of my favorite movies, but I can’t say that it IS my heart. Neither is Running On Empty, although I could make a case for that one, a pretty deep case, actually, and for about 15 seconds it was my first choice. But then, in a flash, I knew exactly what my choice was, and I was shocked that I hadn’t thought of it immediately.


To Read the Entire Essay

Another response:

Jason Bellamy: My Movie


[I've initiated discussions with people about this and will post some random thoughts -- I will also use this as a writing prompt tomorrow in my Argument/Writing course]


Reply to an IM question by a friend that is now offline:

Yes, it would definitely be a piece in your puzzle and would allow people to understand you a bit more and thus it is a leap of faith in sharing that key piece -- especially in trusting others to not laugh, mock, slam or otherwise dismiss your choice/feelings (why I keep emphasizing my honest desire to know rather than critique here)

Also it is a move to go beyond the superficiality of disengaged reflection and communication (on the fly and sarcastic) this medium encourages. My environmental friends speak of the importance of the "heartwood" ... as a film scholar I'm seaking the cinematic equivalent.

Yes, in response to "it could tell you a piece of an infinite and unsolvable puzzle about how things matter to people" but my desire is that "we" all gain and we all collaborate -- the more pieces shared, the more complete the puzzle may become (with the understanding that this puzzle shifts each time a piece is laid down)

Yes again to your perfect encapsulation: "The simple answer is that each of these movies speak to the 'magic' of being. Not in a hokey way, but to quote Jeff Mangum, 'How strange it is to be anything at all.'."

Thanks comrade for your thoughts and for pushing me to think more on what it is I am trying to do here......


My choice would be John Cameron Mitchell’s Shortbus. I have written about this film a lot and it always seems to be just outside my reach, as if it is still working its way through my psyche and doing so transforming what I see as me (and what I imagine could be the possibilities for me, you, us, and everyone else could be). See, it so emotionally powerful for me that it sparks and short-circuits at the same time.

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